Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Eerie symmetry at work here

'Peg has played key role in career of soon-to-be record holder Simon

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VANCOUVER -- He spent only two -- the first two -- of his 14 remarkable seasons in the CFL as a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

And yet the Bombers -- and the City of Winnipeg generally -- have played, and continue to play, an almost uncanny role in the record-breaking career of B.C. Lions slotback Geroy Simon.

And so it would seem only fitting that it is against those same Bombers in the 2012 CFL regular-season opener at BC Place tonight that Simon has an opportunity to cement his standing as the greatest receiver to ever play in the CFL.

With just 67 yards receiving, Simon would break the league record of 15,153 career receiving yards currently held by former Winnipeg Blue Bombers slotback Milt Stegall.

The symmetry of the moment -- the opportunity to break a monumental league record held by a former teammate against that very same former team -- was not lost Thursday on Simon, for whom Winnipeg has played a role in virtually ever major moment in his CFL career since former Bombers quarterback Kerwin Bell threw him the ball that was his first CFL reception way back in 1999.

"It seems like every significant thing that happens in my career has been against Winnipeg or has something to do with Winnipeg," said Simon.

Simon recited a partial list:

-- First league title? At the 2006 Grey Cup, in Winnipeg.

-- CFL Most Outstanding Player? Presented to him in 2006, in Winnipeg.

-- Second Grey Cup? Last year, against Winnipeg.

Add the chance tonight to secure his standing as the most prolific receiver in league history against the Bombers and it almost seems as if the gods of football are determined to make sure the Bombers never forget that they let Simon get away -- just as the gods of baseball for so many decades reminded the Red Sox of their folly in letting Babe Ruth get away.

The Simon-Bombers saga goes like this:

After breaking into the CFL with Winnipeg and spending his first two seasons with the Bombers in 1999 and 2000, Simon left to take a shot at the NFL. When that didn't pan out, Simon called the Bombers first as he looked to return to the CFL in 2001.

Alas, to the everlasting regret of Bombers fans, there was simply no room for him on a 2001 Bombers team that already had Stegall and another future hall of famer in Arland Bruce hauling down passes. So Winnipeg management told the man who is about to become the greatest receiver in the history of the CFL to take a walk.

In retrospect, it seems like folly for Winnipeg to have rejected the almost unbelievable opportunity to have had the two greatest receivers in the history of the CFL -- Stegall and Simon -- on the same team at the same time.

"You had Spiderman and Superman on the same team," Bruce, now with the Lions, said Thursday. "I don't think it will ever happen again."

And Winnipeg's been punished for it ever since. History has recorded that the Lions have parlayed the Bombers' decision on Simon in 2001 into two Grey Cup titles in the intervening years, while Winnipeg is still looking for its first Grey Cup title since 1990.

But Lions GM Wally Buono says the Bombers were victims of circumstance and he'd have likely done the same thing in 2001, given the situation in which Winnipeg found themselves. "It's very difficult to have two of those dominant kinds of receivers at the same time," said Buono. "You only have one ball."

Indeed, Simon reflected Friday on how he had mixed feelings about playing for the Bombers even in 1999 and 2000, when Stegall was already a bona fide league all-star and the team was deep in aerial talent. "At times it was frustrating wanting to be on the field in the beginning," said Simon, who played just 10 games for Winnipeg in 1999 before having a breakout season in 2000, playing in 17 games and recording 51 catches for 725 yards and seven TDs.

"The first year I was there, it was on at times, off at times. So there was frustration. But I also remember having a lot of good times, a lot of success. Winnipeg for some reason reminds me of my hometown (Johnstown, Pa.) and I was really comfortable there."

And yet, is there also not a certain revenge quality to the fact that all his greatest moments in the CFL have come either in Winnipeg as a member of the Lions or against Winnipeg?

"I tried to come back," Simon grinned on Thursday, "and they didn't want me. So there you go."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2012 C2

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